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COPA: European agricultural union

The Treaty of Rome establishing the European Economic Community signed on 25 March 1957 already contained the most important framework provisions of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

The relationship between the Community authorities and the representatives of the agricultural sector was left open by the Treaty, but the Commission expressed its desire for close cooperation at an early stage and invited representatives of agricultural organisations to attend the 1958 Stresa Conference as observers.

Farmers themselves were convinced of the importance of the Community for their sector, and on 6 September 1958, the first European representative organisation, COPA, was created.

One year later, on 24 September 1959, the agricultural cooperatives of the European Community created their European umbrella organisation, COGECA (General Confederation of Agricultural Cooperatives).

COPA’s Secretariat was established in Brussels on 1 April 1959, merging with that of COGECA on 1 December 1962.

COPA: The dynamic force of European farmers

When COPA (Committee of Professional Agricultural Organisations) first started out it had 13 member organisations from the then six Member States. Today COPA is made up of 60 organisations from the countries of the European Union and 36 partner organisations from other European countries such as Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Turkey.

This broad membership allows COPA to represent both the general and specific interests of farmers in the European Union. Since its inception, COPA has been recognised by the Community authorities as the organisation speaking on behalf of the European agricultural sector as a whole.

COPA: Defence and development of the European model of multifunctional and sustainable agriculture

The objectives of COPA are:

  • to examine any matters related to the development of the Common Agricultural Policy
  • to represent the interests of the agricultural sector as a whole
  • to seek solutions which are of common interest, and
  • to maintain and develop relations with the Community authorities and with any other representative organisations or social partners established at European level.

COPA: An advisory, decision making and representative process

The working structures of COPA are determined by three basic ideas:

  • to enable representatives of the European Union from the various agricultural production sectors and areas to discuss matters concerning their respective sector or area and to suggest solutions to the problems posed
  • to coordinate work in the overall context of agriculture, agricultural policy and policy in general
  • to represent all sectors and areas together.

These ideas have resulted in the following structures:

The Praesidium consists of one representative per member organisation. Normally, these representatives are the presidents of the member organisations.

Apart from these national representatives, the following additional persons take part in Praesidium meetings: the President of COGECA, the President of CEJA (European Council of Young Farmers) and the Chairperson of the COPA Women’s Committee.

The COPA President, who chairs the Praesidium meetings, may also invite any additional persons whose presence is regarded as useful. This applies in particular to the Chairmen or Chairwomen of the various COPA Working Parties, as well as to the Chairmen or Chairwomen of the joint COPA/COGECA Working Parties, whenever a subject relevant to their respective sectors is on the agenda.

The Praesidium normally meets every second month.

Its main function is to make all necessary decisions and organise COPA’s activities.

Praesidium positions are taken jointly with COGECA whenever they concern the agricultural sector as a whole.

The Praesidium elects from among its members a President and six Vice-Presidents for a two year term of office. The Presidency of COPA, which normally meets once a month, and the Presidency of COGECA together form a Coordination Committee which tries to reach agreement as far as the activities and positions of COPA and COGECA are concerned.

Policy Coordination Committee
Every month, the Policy Coordination Committee examines certain major horizontal issues and proposals from the COPA/COGECA Working Parties before they are submitted to the Praesidium. Every week, the Committee also exchanges information, coordinates the activities and follows up the decisions made by the Praesidium.

Working Parties
COPA has 50 Working Parties, dealing either with specific, production-related topics (e.g. cereals, beef meat) or with general questions (e.g. environment, rural development). Most of these Working Parties are constituted jointly with COGECA, but both COPA and COGECA also have separate Working Parties of their own. The Working Parties examine all questions concerning their sector, either on their own initiative or at the request of the Praesidium or the President of COPA.

COPA and the European Institutions

The European Commission
COPA’s Praesidium regularly meets the Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development in order to discuss the general development of the Common Agricultural Policy, the market situation and specific issues of particular importance (such as the European Union’s external trade relations).

Meetings with other Commissioners and with the Commission President are arranged whenever the need arises.

As for the more technical issues, regular contact is made between COPA experts and those of the Commission. This contact can take various forms: positions put forward by COPA delegates at the Commission’s Advisory Groups, personal contact at staff level, attendance of Commission officials at COPA meetings, transmission of letters and written positions.

Council of Ministers, European Parliament, Economic and Social Committee and Committee of the Regions
COPA can communicate with the Council both directly and indirectly. Direct representations consist in the transmission of COPA positions on the subject in question, and occasionally in meetings with the President of the Council or the Council as a whole.

Indirect representations are more frequent – these consist of contact at national level between COPA’s member organisations and the national ministers or their staff. Such contact, in order to be successful, must be based on the joint EU-wide positions established at COPA.

There is also regular contact between COPA and the European Parliament and particularly with the members of the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development and the political groups.

Contact between COPA and the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) is particularly close, since a number of representatives of COPA’s member organisations are members of the EESC.

European socio-economic partners and European civil society
COPA’s Secretariat, its member organisations and their members maintain active contact with other socio-economic and civil society representatives who are directly and indirectly related to the agricultural sector. These meetings may take the form of bilateral contact, participation at General Assemblies, and official or informal meetings.

COPA on the international stage 
COPA enjoys privileged relations with many organisations beyond the European Union’s frontiers. Whether these organisations are national or international, agricultural or general, the aim of these relations is the same: to strengthen dialogue with all actors who are relevant for European agriculture.

The dynamic force of European farmers and their cooperatives

When the Treaty of Rome was signed on 25 March 1957, it already contained the most important framework provisions establishing the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).
In recognition of the importance of the agricultural sector, the EU Commission expressed its desire for close cooperation with its representatives at an early stage and invited national agricultural organisations to attend the 1958 Stresa Conference as observers.
In response, the first European organisation representing farmers, COPA (Committee of Professional Agricultural Organisations), was created on 6 September 1958.
Shortly after, on 24 September 1959, the national agricultural cooperative organisations created their European umbrella organisation – COGECA (General Committee for Agricultural Cooperation in the European Union) – which also includes fisheries cooperatives.
COGECA’ s Secretariat merged with that of COPA on 1 December 1962.
When COGECA was created it was made up of 6 members. Since then, it has been enlarged by almost six and now has 35 full members and 4 affiliated members from the EU. COGECA also has 36 partner members.
In line with the recent European Union enlargements, COPA and COGECA have together further reinforced their position as Europe’s strongest farming representative organisations. COPA and COGECA have jointly welcomed 38 national farmer and cooperative organisations from the new Member States.
Overall membership of both organisations has thus risen to 76 organisations from the EU Member States.
COGECA, now called the “General Confederation of Agricultural Cooperatives in the European Union”, currently represents the general and specific interests of some 40,000 farmers’ cooperatives employing some 660,000 people and with a global annual turnover in excess of three hundred billion euros throughout the enlarged Europe. Since its creation, COGECA has been recognised by the European Institutions as the main representative body and indeed the spokesman for the entire agricultural and fisheries cooperative sector.
Fishing cooperatives are active in numerous areas, such as victualling, vessel management and insurance, the fish trade, as well as the marketing and processing of fish.
Maritime cooperation in Europe also includes cooperative ship-owners, whose main objective is still to help bring young people into the profession.
Cooperatives as joint enterprises of farmers as an opportunity for the future
  • Cooperatives came about among difficult economic and social circumstances in the 19th century as an organisational form which could alleviate farmers’ structural deficiencies when operating as small independent entities. Cooperatives exist today in all EU Member States as well as in other European countries.
  • Cooperatives are both associations of individual people and economic enterprises at the same time.
  • Cooperatives are the extension of farming as they enable farmers to concentrate their power for the purpose of supplying inputs and material and collecting, processing and marketing members’ produce.
  • Cooperatives’s activities are founded on the principles of economic democracy, transparency and solidarity among themselves and with their local rural community.
  • Agricultural cooperatives play a vital role in adjusting their members’ production to the requirements of consumers and improving their economic effectiveness and positioning in the marketplace.
  • Agricultural cooperatives actively contribute to guaranteeing environmentally-friendly quality products that are made available throughout the whole supply chain.
  • Agricultural cooperatives are important rural development operators, actively contributing to economic viability in rural areas, including less-favoured regions, by forming and operating the essential information, economic and service-related rural networks, which constitute the backbone of the European social landscape. They are therefore an important source of direct and indirect employment and of economic growth, thus helping to attain the goals of the Lisbon Strategy.
  • Agricultural cooperatives in the EU are an important socio-economic element in the economy and society at large:

                    ⇒    Over 50 % share in the supply of agricultural inputs

                    ⇒    Over 60 % share in the collection, processing and marketing of
agricultural products

Development of the European agricultural cooperative organisations
COGECA’s most important objectives are to:
  • represent the general and specific interests of European agricultural, forestry, fisheries and agri-food co-operatives and to contribute to the development of cooperatives in general
  • influence decisions which affect agricultural cooperatives’ activities by lobbying the EU’s public institutions and other organisations at EU and international level
  • promote the role of agricultural, forestry, fisheries and agri-food cooperatives
  • provide a platform for member organisations and cooperatives to hold political discussions and exchange views on policy issues and the added value of agricultural produce and businesses
  • seek solutions on important issues of common interest and promote them
  • facilitate and coordinate links between its members and its members’ offices in Brussels as well as provide services for cooperative networking
  • promote discussions and exchanges of views with the Committee of Professional Agricultural Organisations in the European Union (COPA) in particular, as well as with other representative organisations at EU and international level
  • undertake legal, economic, financial, social or other studies of interest to agricultural, forestry, fisheries and agri-food cooperatives.
COGECA as a lobby and a platform for inter-cooperative relationships
COGECA is involved in shaping and further developing all Community policies that create important framework conditions for cooperative enterprises.
COGECA fosters cooperation between cooperative enterprises at European level.
COGECA’s decision-making process
The Praesidium consists of representatives of COGECA’s full member organisations and is the highest decision-making body. It examines and settles all matters within the scope of COGECA’ s objectives. Praesidium positions are taken jointly with COPA whenever they concern the agricultural sector as a whole.
The Praesidium elects a President and four Vice-Presidents from among its members for a three-year term of office. The Presidency of COGECA and COPA together form a Coordination Committee which tries to agree on COGECA and COPA’s common activities and positions.
Cooperative Coordination Committee
This group has the task of preparing the work of the COGECA Praesidium. Its role is also to exchange information, coordinate activities and follow-up the decisions made by the Praesidium. It also coordinates the work of the joint COPA-COGECA Working Parties together with COPA.
Working Parties
COGECA has about 50 Working Parties which address either specific commodity sectors or general/horizontal questions. Most of these Working Parties are constituted jointly with COPA, but COGECA and COPA may also have separate Working Parties.
Biennial Congress
The purpose of the Biennial Congress, which consists of representatives delegated by the full members, the affiliated and associated members and the partner organisations, is to inform the participants and exchange views on relevant policy areas. It may also make proposals on COGECA’s general policy.
Since 1962, the Secretariat has been operating jointly on behalf of COGECA and COPA. It assures the smooth and efficient functioning of the two organisations and the implementation of decisions taken by the COGECA and COPA Praesidia.
The Secretariat is made up of approximately 50 people of different nationalities. It provides continuous analysis, communication and expert knowledge to its national member organisations and to European cooperatives. To this end it prepares hundreds of Working Party meetings, reports, and working and position papers every year.
In order to promote cooperative interests in Europe, COGECA is member of Cooperatives Europe, the European region of ICA (International Cooperative Alliance).

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